Frank Ocean 'Channel Orange' - Album Review
Frank Ocean 'Channel Orange' - Album Review
"What's a god to a non-believer who don't believe in anything?" "Or do you not think so far ahead?" "So why see the world, when you've got the beach?"
24 year-old R&B crooner Frank Ocean is a curious man--he questions fearlessly, searching for answers that will hopefully save him from hopelessness, sadness and insanity.
Such is what has made Ocean a success. Once a ghostwriter for the likes of Brandy, Beyonce and Justin Bieber, the Odd Future-heartthrob has since become a sought out man, appearing on Kanye's and Jay-Z's Watch the Throne. But Ocean has his own demons to battle; first on Nostalgia, Ultra, and now on Channel Orange.
Once Ocean's debut studio album begins you are immediately reacquainted with a distant past. A Playstation revs up; Street Fighter II crashes through the airwaves. Some would interpret this as a shout-out to fellow '90s babies, but it foreshadows the journey ahead. A loading screen into the world of a man whose battles with past, present and future experiences, have become our own.
Not much has changed from Ocean's "Thinkin Bout You." Unlike the demo version leaked on his Tumblr last year, this one flutters with additional strings and backing vocals, his declaration of going down "this road 'til it turns from color to black and white," as profound as ever.
"Sweet Life" is Ocean's dedication to the greats. Those summertime chord progressions disguising a dark narrative of the rich and famous, and their frivolous lifestyles--it's reminiscent of Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City" or Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." Like Wonder and Gaye, Ocean creates an interesting parallel between the music and lyrics, and upon closer inspection, not everything is as peachy as it seems.
Same with "Super Rich Kids." Thumping with "Bennie and the Jets" staccato piano, the song paints a vivid picture of disillusioned youth who have all of the money in the world, but cannot buy what matters most: real love. "We are the xany-nation" states fellow Odd Future cohort Earl Sweatshirt, his slurred testimony like something out of Twelve or Less Than Zero.
Ocean obviously has an understanding of his R&B roots. Like his forefathers he knows what to say that will stir the listener's emotions. Where he separates himself from his predecessors is through his own imaginative storytelling.
Take ten minute long single "Pyramids" for example. "I watch you fix your hair then put your panties on in the mirror, Cleopatra," croons Ocean over smothering synths and 808 electronic bass drum. It creates a disturbing irony; a majestic figure turned sexual goddess, with Ocean portraying her pimp. It's beautiful and twisted--something Ocean has come to master since last year's "Novacane."
But Ocean's biggest and boldest declaration comes in "Bad Religion." Prior to Orange's release Ocean took to his Tumblr in which he stated that his first love, at age 19, was with a man. Therefore the line "Never make him love me," resonates powerfully atop melancholy strings and militaristic snare drum. It's a revelation that puts us in Ocean's shoes and forces us to ask an important question: Is love any different when shared between people of the same sex?
Wit, introspection and retrospection are what make Ocean such a compelling writer. No matter the subject he tackles it with a level of depth and insight that cannot be touched.
Orange should also be commended for its production. Where Nostalgia, Ultra was heavily driven by samples, Orange is propelled by soulful grooves. From "Crack Rock's" sampling of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Miss Lover," to crashing drums and organs on "Monks," the production drives with '70s funk, and late 2000's neo-soul. And although the guest features are brief, they add even more icing to Ocean's cake. John Mayer on "Pyramids" and "White;" Andre 3000 on "Pink Matter"--Ocean gets by with a little help from his friends.
Not all songs are incredible though. Conceptually, songs like "Sierra Leone," "Pilot Jones" and "Forrest Gump" work. They act as channels providing another perspective into Ocean's psyche, before changing abruptly. But individually, they show Ocean's flaws. They begin as muddled ideas and only get stranger, forcing the listener to change to another track.
Channel Orange is up there with the likes of Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Some channel's will be skimmed over in favor of more prime-time ones, but Orange will inevitably become one of those timeless albums cherished for many, many years.